You might have noticed recently that some LinkedIn members now have their pronouns listed beside their name when you visit their profile. That’s because LinkedIn is currently rolling out, in select countries, the option for members to add their pronouns to their profile to best express their authentic selves.
Pronouns matter because they’re used to signal one of the most deeply felt aspects of who we are: our gender identity. And they come up in conversation a lot. For example, my pronouns are she/her, and you might use them to refer to me instead of repeating my name. But for people whose gender identity doesn’t align with the sex they were assigned at birth, this conversational shorthand can sometimes result in them being misgendered.
Even when it’s done unintentionally, misgendering someone can still be hurtful and alienating. Normalizing the conversation around pronouns can reduce the chances of this happening — and that starts with understanding what different pronouns mean. LinkedIn data shows that beyond he/him and she/her, many members have added they/them or a custom set of pronouns to their profiles, indicating that they are nonbinary, neither solely male nor solely female. (A new study finds that 1.2 million U.S. citizens identify as nonbinary).
Here are five of the most common member-defined pronouns used on the platform:
Most common member-defined pronouns on LinkedIn: The most frequent pronouns used by LinkedIn members, after “she/her,” “he/him,” and “they/them” 1. “she/they” 2. “he/they” 3. “they/she” * 4. “they/he” 5. “any pronouns” ** | * Since the order of pronouns may reflect a preference, pronoun sets such as “she/they” and “they/she” are counted separately | **This reflects members who wrote “any” or “any pronouns”
By using pronouns accurately and respectfully and fostering a culture where everyone feels comfortable asserting their pronouns, you can make a huge difference in people’s day-to-day experiences at work and show candidates that your company is committed to inclusivity.
“I’m not out as nonbinary at my current place of employment, but I am interviewing now as my authentic self for the first time,” says one professional working in the publishing industry whose pronouns are they/them. “The difference is significant.”
Here’s what different sets of pronouns mean, in the words of people who use them.
What they/them pronouns mean to professionals who identify with them
They/them is often (though not exclusively) used by nonbinary individuals. This can include those who identify as being between or beyond genders, having no gender, or having no fixed gender.
“For me, I don’t connect with femininity or masculinity as a static state, which I hope is pretty evident from the way I dress as a form of self-expression,” the publishing professional explains. “But that’s not always the case and I can’t control how people will perceive me. They/them allows me to distill this fact about myself down to a simple declarative statement that fits into a first impression or business introduction.”
What she/they, he/they, they/she, and they/he pronouns mean to professionals who identify with them
While many nonbinary individuals use they/them pronouns, others use she/they, he/they, they/she, or they/he. These pronoun sets can mean different things to different people.
For instance, as one writer and designer on Twitter whose pronouns are she/they explains, someone might use she/they to mean “I identify as a woman, but also as nonbinary. I don’t feel womanhood tells my full story, but I’m not fully divested from it, either.” But another person may use the same pronouns to communicate something else, such as “She/her is fine, but I also use they/them and would probably appreciate getting they/them’d from time to time.”
The order a person uses (such as they/he vs. he/they) can also be important, since it often signifies which of their pronouns they’d like you to use most often, even if they won’t be offended if you use the other.
“I identify as nonbinary, but most people at work assume I’m a she and most of the time I don’t correct them,” says one retail professional whose pronouns are they/she. “I don’t mind it, but it’s always a nice surprise when people use they/them.”
What she/he/they or any pronouns mean to professionals who identify with them
In some instances, a nonbinary person may tell you they’re comfortable with any pronouns or specifically with she/he/they. However, this doesn’t mean that you should pick one pronoun and use it whenever you’re referring to them. Since they’re letting you know that their gender is not binary, if you stick to a single binary pronoun, they may get the sense that you don’t truly understand or respect that.
“I think for me, my pronouns represent the range of my gender fluidity, and it’s interesting discovering how I feel about them as I go,” explains a professional working in academia whose pronouns are she/he/they. “Because I’m fluid, I don’t mind being called she because that’s part of who I am, but it’s lovely when I get the other pronouns too, especially if I’m really feeling one of them at the moment.”
As an example of how you might refer to someone with these pronouns, they point toward this article from Sports Illustrated, which alternates between she, he, and they when referring to the nonbinary athlete Layshia Clarendon who identifies with these pronouns.
“In my work signature and on my website, I distinguish for print/press, asking for they,” they elaborate, “because after an article came out about me calling me she, I just felt very fixed in a way that I wasn’t entirely comfortable with, even though she is not wrong.”
Other pronouns you might encounter
The pronouns outlined above are not the only ones you might encounter, so listening to what candidates and employees tell you about their pronouns is the best way to make them feel seen and welcome.
For example, there are pronouns that are specific to certain cultures, especially those where the language is heavily gendered, like Spanish. The pronouns she/her/ella and he/him/él are used by many professionals who are Latina or Latino respectively. These pronouns can represent their intersectionality as well as their gender identity.
“I grew up in the United States, but I’m also bilingual and Latina, so I use she/her/ella to drive awareness about inclusive language in both my English- and Spanish-speaking communities,” says one professional working in tech. “It feels important to me to normalize asking for pronouns, and to invite dialogue about how to unlearn outdated understandings of gender.”
Since ella and él are both gendered pronouns in Spanish, some nonbinary people use elle (pronounced EH-yeh) as a gender-neutral alternative. So, you might see the pronouns they/them/elle.
“Elle is a push for progress, in a language like Spanish where the nouns and adjectives you use to refer to yourself in everyday life are masculine or feminine,” the tech professional explains. “Elle (though still not widely adopted) provides an option for folks who identify outside the binary to represent themselves more authentically.”
Final thoughts: Normalizing the conversation around pronouns can make people feel comfortable being their authentic selves at work
As a rule of thumb, it’s always better to ask about a person’s pronouns than to guess. By normalizing the conversation around pronouns at your company, this will soon become second nature. Here are a few steps you can take to get started:
Add your pronouns to your email signature and your LinkedIn profile when the feature is available to you (it may be already!) and encourage your leaders and team to do the same.
When you meet a new candidate or employee, introduce yourself using your pronouns first to put the other person at ease and encourage them to share their own. For example, I might say “Hi — I’m Sam, I use she/her pronouns, and I work on the marketing team.”
Be consistent. If you regularly introduce yourself using your pronouns, nonbinary and transgender individuals won’t feel singled out.
When someone tells you their pronouns, make a note of it. If you catch yourself making a mistake or if someone corrects you, apologize, restate what you were saying using the correct pronouns, and try to remember for next time. Resist the urge to get defensive — it’s a learning curve, and we all make mistakes sometimes.
If you have a question about what someone’s pronouns mean, it may be OK to ask a follow-up question, but be mindful of the setting. They may feel it’s inappropriate for you to ask in an all-hands meeting, for example, but be open to discussing it privately. There are also a wealth of resources online (like this guide from Out & Equal) that you can turn to if you want to learn more about pronouns, the gender spectrum, and other LGBTQ+ issues.
This may take some getting used to. But your efforts will not go unnoticed by employees and candidates.
“I feel very seen when people ask me for my pronouns, and even more so when people call me by my pronouns,” says the professional working in academia, noting that they have faced harassment in the workplace for requesting that people use the correct pronouns.
For the professional working in publishing, interviewing as their authentic self for the first time has been an empowering experience.
“I feel much more confident talking through my projects and responsibilities,” they explain. “Being identified and addressed by my preferred pronouns also signals to me as an interviewee that this is a company where I am less likely to experience discrimination for my gender presentation or, if it occurs, a company where I will have a supportive HR staff or supervising manager to advocate for me.”
This analysis considers the most common user-defined pronouns on LinkedIn, i.e., customized pronouns that members inputted themselves, rather than selecting a preset option, where available, like she/her or he/him. For the purpose of aggregating the most common pronouns, those with the same order of pronouns were counted together. For example, user-defined pronouns she/they, she/her/they/them, and she/her/they are all counted under she/they. However, since the order of pronouns may reflect a preference, pronoun sets such as she/they and they/she are counted separately. The pronouns from users who wrote the words any or any pronouns were counted collectively under any pronouns.
Authored by Samantha McLaren
Content Strategist by Day, Horror Critic by Night
June 28, 2021